Your Say: Why an elected mayor will let Bristol be as amazing as it deserves

Jaya Chakrabarti, Chair of the Mayor for Bristol campaign, argues the way that leadership is structured in Bristol needs to change now

By Jaya Chakrabarti
Chair of the Mayor for Bristol campaign

Liverpool has just been promised £130million for their city from central government. The reason? They said they were going to elect a mayor.

This week, Liverpool City Council voted by an overwhelming majority to bypass a referendum on the topic and go straight for the election itself this May.

The leader of Liverpool City Council said: “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a good deal for the city.” The overall potential benefit of getting a mayor for Liverpool is estimated at £1bn.

It’s as easy as that. So why isn’t Bristol doing it? We do have the chance. The Government through its Localism Bill, passed just three months ago, has offered all twelve core cities in the UK, including Bristol, a referendum on whether or not they want an elected mayor. If we vote yes, we get our mayoral election in November.

Research shows that Britain is one of the most centralised states in the world. But in a global, connected age, cities are the future – small, sustainable, loyal and local. That is where we want to be.

That’s why the government is rolling back some of the centralisation imposed by the last government, putting power back into the hands of localities. The chance to have an elected mayor for Bristol is part of that movement and I think it’s one that would suit Bristol really well – because most Bristolians are very loyal to Bristol itself. We want to pull together and work to prosper, and our own elected mayor would help us do that.

Plus, with all the cuts and slashing of benefits going on, I don’t think we’re in a position to turn down anything that will bring such badly-needed funds into our city. If Bristol would get half a billion pounds from this, or even a hundred million, or even 25 million, why on earth would we want to say no?

The city council says it’s a bad idea, because an elected mayor will cost more money (the mayor’s salary would be funded by the council). But the facts already show that that cost will be recompensed hundreds of times over.

At our campaign, A Mayor for Bristol, we want it to happen. Bristol has a ceremonial lord mayor, a councillor elected by other councillors, a traditional role that has been going on for hundreds of years. That’s not what we’re talking about. This would be a new mayor, with positive powers to help the city, elected directly by Bristolians. An elected mayor is the public face of the city and its ambassador. His or her full-time job is to help Bristol locally, nationally and internationally.

Sometimes the results are wacky and surprising. Ten years ago, Hartlepool elected the mascot of the town’s football team, a monkey called H’Angus, to be their Mayor (he said he’d put free bananas in every school). But the monkey turned out to be 28-year-old Stuart Drummond, who used the mascot to promote his campaign, as an independent. Ten years on, Drummond has earned his stripes. These days he’s England’s only three-term-elected mayor, and won 10th place in World Mayor 2010. Hartlepool has never looked back.

Worldwide, cities that have elected mayors do better. Chicago has become a global business centre since electing a mayor; Auckland in New Zealand has turned into a major Pacific Rim player. London’s central traffic problems and public transport were sorted at a stroke once an elected mayor took over. In each of these cases and more, it was the elected mayor that made the difference.

And now Liverpool. They’ve jumped at the chance the government is offering the 12 UK core cities, of which Bristol is one. Since the Localism Act became law, our city has had a referendum – actually given to us by Whitehall – arranged for May 3. The referendum is for every Bristolian to vote on whether or not we want an elected mayor.

If we say we do – and I really hope Bristolians will – then we move on to the actual mayoral election for our city in November.

So what powers would our Mayor have? There’s room for each city to negotiate this with central government. Liverpool is already negotiating for mayoral powers over housing, regeneration, the skills curriculum and welfare programmes. Elected mayors generally have three core powers – over transport, strategic/spatial planning (what’s built in the city and where), and economic development – lifting the profile of the city.

This is so badly needed in Bristol, which is famous for tying itself in bureaucratic knots on these very issues. Remember the trams that never happened? The arena project that fell apart? And as for the stadium – let’s not even go there.

The council has been saying that a mayor for Bristol would find it difficult to work with the surrounding unitary authorities of South Gloucestershire, North Somerset and BANES. I don’t think so. The elected mayor would turbo-charge our new Local Enterprise Partnership and make sure we got what we needed. The mayor would be the face of our city in Britain and the world, telling everyone what Bristol does best and attracting huge inward investment. It would put Bristol on the map.

There are concerns that once elected, we could be stuck with the wrong person – that there might be corruption, or that a four-year term is too long. That’s not really the case. A four-year term gives continuity – it’s a commitment. And if some kind of disaster really did happen, there is always the power of recall, an emergency power to remove the mayor. It’s a backup plan that in most cases is never used or needed.

I know Barbara Janke feels that an elected mayor wouldn’t do us much good. I disagree – and so do the volunteers, from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds, who are helping with our campaign. We want a bright future for our city – a twentieth-century, global and local future, where the name of Bristol is what it should be – out there, doing us good.

I don’t want us to fade away and get ignored in a corner while Liverpool and Leicester and Birmingham shout for their rights and scoop up all the money and business. I think Bristol deserves better. We have bags of vision and passion here, and there’s nothing wrong with our leaders either – but we believe the way that leadership is structured needs to change now. An elected mayor should unshackle those chains. That’s what our whole campaign is about: allowing Bristol to be as amazing as it deserves.

36 Responses to Your Say: Why an elected mayor will let Bristol be as amazing as it deserves
  1. Deano
    February 17, 2012 | 9:08 am


    David Sweeting argues that we should go for an elected mayor because we can regularly change who the elected mayor is. Meanwhile one of the major criticisms levelled at the present system by those who want an elected mayor is that the present system means that the leader keeps changing. Go figure…..

    In other news, people criticise tea for having too much caffeine in it and suggest we all change to coffee.

    BTW if central govt, who are the ones that want us to use this system, are so convinced that a leader directly elected by the electorate is so good for us when do I get to choose the Prime Minister. At the moment only a handful of MPs get to select the leader of the country. One rule for them…..

  2. David Sweeting
    February 16, 2012 | 7:03 pm

    Bristol needs a directly elected mayor. At present, a handful of councillors get to choose who the leader of the council is – and when to throw them out. I'm sure this is Barbara Janke's third go at the job, interspersed with stints from Helen Holland, Peter Hammond, Diane Bunyon… A mayor elected for four years would have the stability and security to take difficult decisions for the benefit of Bristolians as he or she would know they have a good run in office but, in four years time, they have to face the electorate again. This is effective, visible, and accountable local democracy.

  3. Paul BemmyDown
    February 13, 2012 | 4:16 pm

    If the good people of Bristol vote for one of the Anti-Capitalist protester, will that be good for business and bring an estimated £1 billion in investment?

  4. jayacg
    February 13, 2012 | 1:32 pm

    sacredspring: The people voted against Gordon Brown too in the end, which is interesting given that they didn't actually vote him in :). The democratically elected mayor would be exactly what it says on the tin – voted in by the people, should the people wish to have that option. The power of recall is as important as the power of choosing your leader and we (a mayor for Bristol) would be lobbying as much for that as having a mayor in the first place. Accountability follows closely after being qualified for doing the job justice…

    Whilst I'm not suggesting this at all for Bristol, Leicester decided their mayor was so good that they didn't need a CEO. It can cut both ways and beyond you know!

    countrycousin: it's interesting that you separate out jobs from business – obviously from my small business standpoint, I think the two are inextricably linked :). Unless you mean more public sector jobs? Either way I do agree with the rest of your sentiments. Though the hands of the four LAs are somewhat tied as there will never be a proper integrated transport system when each LA has to keep their own patches happy in direct conflict with the interests of the region..

  5. sacredspring
    February 13, 2012 | 11:34 am

    Stoke on Trent had a referendum to get rid of their Mayor. They obviously decided he was a waste of money.

  6. countrycousin
    February 13, 2012 | 10:56 am

    And of course, cities like Leeds don't seem to find working with their neighbouring towns and cities brings anything other than benefits and in fact our four councils already work more closely than they like to admit. These competitor cities are also bidding hard against us to host some of the organisations we want to settle here in Bristol to bring us resources and jobs to help all of us not just "business" whatever that is. In an increasingly competitive and global environment small (or timid!) is not necessarily beautiful.

  7. countrycousin
    February 13, 2012 | 10:54 am

    I just don't understand why other large cities in this country and in many others find this mayoral model works for them but Bristol too often thinks it knows better (or worse) when it comes to anything which threatens the status quo. We have lost so many opportunities for being heard by policy makers this way over the years. For those who think that a city mayor only works really well on a larger scale (they may be right) the best way to engage neighbouring areas is to set the pace in Bristol and show some early successes which also offer them value. No one of the four unitary authorities in the Bristol area has the power to address the "big issues" this city faces on their own so a city mayor (who would be a ministerial appointment) could help to get things moving and deliver measurable benefit to Bristol citizens.

  8. sacredspring
    February 12, 2012 | 12:45 pm

    I will be giving Bristolians the opportunity to vote in my ongoing polls. The people will be given the chance to express their views on mayors, bananas and everything bendy bus related. The stats will then be collated and presented prior to the election. This will demonstrate in an unbiased and neutral form how seriously we regard this debate.

  9. jayacg
    February 12, 2012 | 9:23 am

    Of course it's in the government's interests to make sure this whole DEM thing doesn't fall flat on its face. The position we need to start from is, "what would make an elected mayor leadership model work for us?". Liverpool knows what it wants – and it's going to get it. This whole adventure has proven to me that the city is FILLED to the brim with people who know what the city needs, but also that they appear to be afraid to ask for it.

  10. jayacg
    February 11, 2012 | 11:01 am

    Of course it's in the government's interests to make sure this whole DEM thing doesn't fall flat on its face. The position we need to start from is, "what would make an elected mayor leadership model work for us?". Liverpool knows what it wants – and it's going to get it. This whole adventure has proven to me that the city is FILLED to the brim with people who know what the city needs, but also that they appear to be afraid to ask for it.

    A DEM is not the only answer, but it's currently the best one we've got on the table at the moment. So, the question really is: are we able, as a city, to turn this into an advantage, or spend all of our time focussing on reasons why we won't be able to make it work?

    I still think you should stand Wood5y :).

    • arry
      February 11, 2012 | 3:52 pm

      So – If the government offered a bribe to vote against a mayor, then you would support voting against a mayor ?

      • Christina
        February 11, 2012 | 8:23 pm

        It's not a "bribe" to get hold of some of the money back that we all pay in our taxes. Plus a lot of this will come through attracting inward investment – it's the ambassadorial role of the mayor that will bring this money, and the ability to move fast on decisions and compete with other cities nationally and globally.

      • jayacg
        February 12, 2012 | 8:51 am

        lol arry! No – I'd vote on whatever made sense to me with or without cash being dangled. But if cash *is* being dangled for an idea I've already bought into in a city where front-line services are being cut and badly need subsidy, then I consider that a win-win.

        Here's a thought though – WHAT IF the government is using reverse psychology, offering a bribe in the hope that the elected mayor offer isn't taken up?

        There's a shocking fact that comes up again and again. Most of the money we raise here in Bristol (often quoted to have the 2nd highest GDP outside of London) in taxes goes up north, whilst we (too) have some of the most deprived wards in the country. I want action on that, and I'll look at all possible options available to redress that balance. Without having to become a politician (which means using my vote :)).

  11. Christina
    February 11, 2012 | 10:46 am

    Isn't this participatory democracy though? See my comment above. Anyone can participate. In Hartlepool a monkey got elected!

    • wood5y
      February 11, 2012 | 1:11 pm

      Electing people to make your decisions for you isn't participatory democracy. Ancient Athens had a form of participatory democracy with the city assembly having a quorum of 6,000 citizens and with the far smaller council appointed to run the city drawn by lot. There was also a referendum system covering momentous decisions as to whether to go to war and the best cultural creations of the year.

      That to me sounds far more participatory than the allegedly more progressive modern idea of being allowed to put a cross on a piece of paper every few years.

      • Christina
        February 11, 2012 | 2:10 pm

        Well yes. Then again ancient Athens was in the ancient world. That was a time when the seas were filled with fish and there were wolves in all the woods. There were literally no cities in England at all, it was so long ago. It was even before Roman roads. People round here in those days lived by the rivers, fished with spears and huddled together in roundhouses behind stockades at night if they were lucky. Or they lived in houses on stilts in the middle of lakes. They were big into tattoos as well. And painting their bodies blue. Life expectancy? Erm, not high.

        The ancient Greeks wrote whole epic stories about situations you could solve today with one phone call. It took Odysseus the whole Odyssey to get home again – these days it would be a two-hour flight. He met one-eyed monsters as well and those seem to have gone too. Frankly it's not a world many people would want to go back to.

        That's not to say the ancient world didn't teach us a lot. It did, especially the Greeks with their amazing philosophy and ritual drama, and the beginnings of laws, democracy, medicine, mathematics (let's just put aside the slavery, sexism, capital punishment, animal sacrifices). But what I'm saying is that today it's a different world in huge ways. Especially economically, which is partly what this is about (it's also about other things – feeling like a city and community is one of them). It's a global, technological, crowded world and it's getting more and more connected and fluid. That's difficult to control, as we see. At the same time localism is becoming more possible and more important. We've just launched the Bristol Pound, haven't we? One example.

        I know what you're saying, that local government needs to have more reflection given to it and people need to be more involved. I agree. That's why I'm having this conversation – this IS being involved.

        What I'm saying is that this elected mayor thing isn't just about Bristol – it's about the UK and the world. From what I can see, elected mayors are like the internet – they're on their way regardless. They are happening across Britain and they are happening internationally too.

        There will be money and power attached and there will likely be strings attached. But it's up to us to decide whether one outweighs the other. I share your suspicions of anything coming out of the ConDem government, or indeed any central government, but isn't that the point – that the mayor would mean more powers locally? I also share your preference for participatory democracy where people (though by no means everyone) had referendums and the council drawn by lot. But that's never been on offer. If you want to make that happen, then do.

        Our choice is do we decide to go for this elected mayor and try and make it work really well for the city, as Liverpool is doing, or do we stay out of the picture and watch as everyone else piles in.

        The main thing in any case is to vote in the May 3rd referendum. Either one way or the other. Not voting would be the worst outcome of all.

        Cheers Woodsy and see you at the debate! Fancy dress or not :-)

        • arry
          February 11, 2012 | 6:37 pm

          So the less people who have power, the more people are involved – is that what you are saying ?

          For the record, participatory democracy and representative democracy are very different things. You are advocating an extreme form of representative democracy where the maximum number of people transfer power to the minimum number of people (i.e. one).

          • Christina
            February 11, 2012 | 8:20 pm

            The mayor will be answerable directly to the people of Bristol – all of them who choose to vote – not to a small cabal of politicians or their own party. The mayor's power is given only by the voters and can be taken away. City mayors are conscious of this all the time.

            What I'm saying is that with billions and billions of people in the world, and half a million in Bristol alone, the ancient Greek method of participatory democracy isn't on offer and personally I can't see how it could work. That's if you even wanted to go back to a time when only men were allowed to take any political decisions.

            You might say everyone can make decisions online, but remember the digital divide – 10M people in Britain don't have access to a computer at all. We're all sitting here having a nice chat at our computers, but out there people are worried sick about their jobs and kids. I think anything that helps the people of Bristol, and is likely to create real employment and give real benefit to the city, has to be worth considering.

    • Damnoniad
      February 13, 2012 | 9:49 pm

      "In Hartlepool a monkey got elected!"

      Um, I think you mean "hung". Try feeding Hartlepool + monkey into your search engine of choice. They monkey hingers are famous.

  12. wood5y
    February 11, 2012 | 10:31 am

    One reason a directly elected mayor is popular is that Bristol City Council is seen as being out of touch with the people it is alleged to serve. One consequence of this is that turnout in council elections is very low.

    This is indicative of the failure of representative democracy.

    As representative democracy has proved such a failure at local level, how will the situation be improved by giving people more of the same in the form of a mayoral election?

    What's wrong with trying other methods, such as participatory democracy?

    Finally, the implication seems to be that if Bristol does go for an elected mayor, this will release additional funds from central government. There's a name for this kind of thing: it's called a bribe.

  13. jayacg
    February 11, 2012 | 10:04 am

    just found the other link again tho:

    You'd have to read the actual report I think to know how they came to that figure. I personally believe it's possible for them given the assets they've already got to capitalise on.

  14. jayacg
    February 11, 2012 | 9:55 am

    hey all, great to get the debate going on here! Many of the links of our sources are now being posted to our facebook group:

    Join up and have a decent argument there.

    My thought on Liverpool's £1B is that they have a number of things they can "multiply" investment on, including a not-so-shabby football team, the city of culture stuff, and many things that Bristol doesn't even have yet. That said, they've proven that they can get those things with the current leadership and are now prepared to go further to get more. If you don't ask, you don't get. So the question that really needs answering is, do you think Bristol's fine as it is, or do you think something needs to change. if so, what?

    The democratically elected mayor (DEM) leadership model doesn't replace 70 councillors. What we're proposing is councillors who are empowered more with things like power of recall. Our current leader was voted in by an inner circle as I understand it (of fifteen councillors)? How is that better, no matter how good she might be?

    Our academic partners from UWE, Bristol Uni and the Warwick Commission have solid research-based evidence of how the role needs to work in order to benefit cities and city regions. We're basing our recommendations on those.

    I should also declare that I do indeed run a business. A SMALL business of 16 people. The majority of supporters who have come out are all from businesses of these sizes, and if there's a place to take bigwigs for lunch, then we're certainly not privvy to them. What most businesses understand is how leadership can be made to work. It's what makes us interesting "corporate" citizens. We don't have the luxury of NIMBYism because we have employees and a city infrastructure to think of (if transport and education are poor, how will we attract good employees to come and work here and stay here?).

    Bert – thanks for the advice. I'm new at this stuff and realise that just being passionate about it isn't enough :). Come join the facebook page and hopefully we can tease out the hype from the reality with the rest of the group.

  15. thebristolblogger
    February 10, 2012 | 6:42 pm

    This is the same kind of maths that claimed hosting World Cup group games was going to generate the city £100m …

  16. Bert
    February 10, 2012 | 5:29 pm

    Dear Jaya, Please show the calculations behind these fantastical numbers – this is the internet, linking to sources is good form, and you will understand if people are suspicious of huge claims being made without any indication of how they will be realised. Not providing greater detail leave you open to accusations of exaggeration. Cheers!

  17. Paul BemmyDown
    February 10, 2012 | 4:38 pm

    Value to Liverpool, £1 billion. Can you explain how that figure is arrived at and where the money comes from. I suppose if you are a council who turns down a referendum in favour of making the decision yourself, you have to back this up with some claims of success, so what detail did this cllr. give? As for a Mayor for Bristol, once elected, how will he guage public opinion. Will it be a case of "trust me, I'm a Mayor" or will he have to consult "us" on major decisions. I,m afraid history is strewn with, say one thing, do another, leaders, and I'm not convinced.

    • Christina
      February 11, 2012 | 10:08 am

      I know where the figure came from – it was in the Liverpool Council's report as part of their bid to go straight to a mayoral vote without the referendum. It was reported in the Liverpool Daily Post here

      • Paul BemmyDown
        February 11, 2012 | 3:56 pm

        So this article say "potential….. estimated £1 billion." The Liverpool article says "£500 million to £1 BILLION". Sorry, but I think the saying is, "I'll believe it when I see it!"

        • Christina
          February 11, 2012 | 8:09 pm

          Yep. £1 Billion. You might end up seeing it in other cities quicker than in Bristol though. We'll be able to watch as Liverpool and Birmingham and Newcastle and Sheffield build tram services….arenas….stadiums…new schools….attract businesses and investment….while Bristol lags behind because people thought it would all be bribes and the Merchant Venturers, and didn't vote yes.

  18. arry
    February 10, 2012 | 3:47 pm

    "It’s as easy as that. So why isn’t Bristol doing it? "

    Am i right here – You are proposing that we transfer the power of 70 odd councillors to a single person just so we qualify for a government handout ?

    Nor do I understand why "localism" requires a Mayor ? Can't we govern ourselves without some form on Monarch ?

    This is weak stuff. Why don't you identify the real reason behind Mayors – The Business Lobby loves it. Only one person to lunch/fund/pressurise and no concern about local constituants

    • Christina
      February 11, 2012 | 10:06 am

      ee, Arry! That's not very positive. Have a look at the research on elected mayors and read the links.

      The power of 70 odd councillors won't be changed.

      Governing ourselves, yes. This is how to do it.

      Business means jobs. Are you against jobs?

      Business people ARE local constituents. Or if not, what are they? But this isn't about business. The mayor would mostly have powers re transport, spatial planning and economic development, lifting the profile of the city.

      • wood5y
        February 11, 2012 | 10:35 am

        But this isn't about business.

        I'm afraid it is. Business interests have had a stranglehold on Bristol for centuries. If this is not so, why is the most influential group in the city a bunch of secretive, conservative businessmen called the Merchant Venturers?

        • Christina
          February 11, 2012 | 10:44 am

          yebbut Woodsy, we're not talking about a STRANGLEHOLD. We're talking about an elected mayor – elected directly by the people of Bristol. Anyone can stand. You could stand.

          • arry
            February 11, 2012 | 3:54 pm

            yebbut – if you dont have the money backing a campaign for mayor, you are never going to get elected.

            What would be the point of standing without the funds to buy the staff to make and pimp the leaflets and the staff to spin the media and smoose the other politicians. In the US now, only the super rich even think of standing.

          • Christina
            February 11, 2012 | 7:58 pm

            Bristol isn't the US. It's not London. It's only a small town, half a million people. For that number you could get your friends to help. Or fundraise, come to that. Or do it all yourself.

            And smooching the other politicians, really? Who? Barbara Janke? you think you need a lot of money to do that? I expect if you phoned up the council you could just make appointments to see people. Cost: negligible.

            And why would you do that anyway? It's the electorate you'd need to convince if you were running for Bristol mayor, not the council.

            Leaflets can be made on a home computer and you can use recycled paper. And the internet's free. You're spinning the media yourself right now and I don't think you're using staff to do it.

            Anyone can stand and I bet quite a few will, if Bristol votes for a mayor. It all depends on what happens at the referendum. By the looks of things Bristolians don't want a mayor though, so end of story.

          • arry
            February 12, 2012 | 11:52 am

            You are right. You would probably only need about £200,000 to promote yourself for Mayor somewhere as small as Bristol. So Woodsy could easily afford that !!! Albeit, he would still be outspent by corporate funded rivals.

            Whilst he is at it, he could set up his own paper to rival the Evening Post and launch his own brand of Cola to rival Pepsi and Coke. Its a free countty so nothing to stop him.

  19. Trymriverman
    February 10, 2012 | 1:14 pm

    If the mayor is only to have powers up to the city boundaries, then I don't think it will work , as plans for transport and the Arena, e.g., will still be stymied by a hemmed in Bristol and disinterested surrounding authorities, who don't want expense, or bother and, apparently, don't see themselves as being part of Bristol. However an energetic, charismatic, go-getter with powers covering the old Avon County might prove a winner and that's what this great city deserves.

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